“One of the best territories to understand recent climate change processes in Europe”
The Cabo de Gata-Níjar UNESCO Global Geopark is located in the south-east corner of Spain, in the region of Andalusia, inside the province of Almeria and the municipalities of Almería, Carboneras and Níjar. The territory faces the Mediterranean Sea, next to the border that divides the European and African tectonic plates. This is one of the few sub-desert areas in Europe and was the first maritime and terrestrial Protected Area in Andalusia. The rich natural and cultural heritage of the Geopark has been recognized with different international designations: WII (Ramsar Convention List), Biosphere Reserve (MaB), Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI), Protected Area Natura2000, National Marine Reseve and European Charter of Sustainable Tourism (ECST).
The geodiversity of Cabo de Gata-Níjar UNESCO Global Geopark is usually associated with the volcanic range of Cabo de Gata, the most complex and extensive volcanic deposit in the Iberian Peninsula of ca. 16 to 8 million years old. The volcanic complex is classified as intermediate type (andesites and dacites). In fact, the Geopark represents the most extensive and complex calco-alcaline fossil volcanism in the Iberian Peninsula. The emerged part of the complex comprises only 5% of the total complex, the rest can be found below the Alboran Sea, following the Carboneras Fault. It is also worth mentioning the scattered Tortonian and Messinian reefs deposits with excellent examples of Tyrrhenian fossilized beaches, and the Quaternary alluvial and coastal plain with a Wetland of International Importance known as Las Salinas.
The exceptional weathering conditions of the territory and the sub-desert dwarf vegetation allow the visitor to enjoy the geological landscape: domes, lava flows, columnar jointing, alluvial fans, coastal cliffs, dykes and fossilized reefs constructions. Inside the UNESCO Global Geopark, 39 geological sites of cultural, scientific and didactic interest have been identified, most of them also included in the Andalusian Inventory of Geological Sites.
This semi-arid climate and poor soil supports a surprising richness of plant species which ranks among the most diverse in Europe. More than 1,000 endemic plant species, hundreds of which are very small and live for only days or months, are found in the Geopark. There are also remarkable marine, steppe and salt marsh bird communities.
Because of the scarcity of fertile soil, ancient settlers devised a system of wind mills, water wheels, wells and cisterns for the extraction and storage of water. These structures represent a major milestone in the history and development of the landscape of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar UNESCO Global Geopark along with coastal defense towers and medieval mining settlements.
The UNESCO Global Geopark has established a visitor center, six information points and six view-points, 16 paths and five observatories for bird watching, a botanical garden, an exhibition and conference center, a maritime classroom and a naturalist classroom and center dedicated to geotourism. Diving in the Geopark is an unforgettable experience in the cleanest and most transparent waters in the Mediterranean, while watching sea urchins and starfish, sponges and molluscs, and a variety of fish.
Due to the scientific and didactic value of its geology, the UNESCO Global Geopark has a very important role in education at all levels. Many schools and high schools from the area come to visit the Visitors Center, the Geotouristic Center and they also take outdoor lessons in order to enjoy learning earth sciences. Universities from all over Europe, such as the London University, Munchen University or the Complutense University of Madrid, and some universities from farther countries, like the Petroleum Institute Abu Dhabi, come every year to perform practical lessons. The UNESCO Global Geopark also attracts high quality tourism in the framework of the ECST. The ECST guarantees environmentally friendly establishments and active tourism enterprises, which have dramatically increased in number in the last few years. This year-round tourism contributes to improve the economy of the area in the low season.